Consumer Tips

HOME SAFETY TIPS FOR THE ELDERLY AND YOU!
  
The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (“CPSC”) reports that each year almost one million people over age 65 are treated in hospital emergency rooms for injuries they receive in the home. Slips and falls in the home are the main source of injury for older people.  Some of the safety precautions recommended by the CPSC are the use of grab-bars and non-slip mats in the bathtub, handrails on both sides of the stairs, and slip-resistant carpets and rugs.  They also recommend that water heater be 120 degrees Fahrenheit to help prevent burns and scalds and the installation and maintenance of at least one smoke detector on every floor of the home.  While the list below may not cover every aspect of safety in the home, it is a good beginning.
 
ALL AREAS OF THE HOME
 
Check all electrical and telephone cords; rugs, runners and mats; telephone areas; smoke detectors; electrical outlets and switches; light bulbs; space heaters; wood burning stoves; and your emergency exit plan.
 
TELEPHONE/ELECTRIC CORDS
 
Cords stretched across walkways may cause someone to trip and fall. 
 
  • Arrange furniture so that outlets are available for lamps and appliances without the use of extension cords.
  • If you must use an extension cord, place it on the floor against a wall where people will not trip over it.
  • Telephone cords should not be in an area that impedes moving around.
  • Remove cords from under furniture or carpeting.
  • Replace damaged or frayed cords as damaged cords may cause a shock or fire.
  • Use tape to attach cords to walls or floors instead of nails as nails or staples can damage cords, and cause fire and shock hazards.
  • If the rating on the cord is exceeded because of the power requirements of one or more appliances being used on the cord, change the cord to a higher rated one or unplug some appliances as overloaded extension cords may cause fires.   Standard 18 gauge extension cords can carry 1250 watts.
  • If an extension cord is needed, use one that has sufficient amp or wattage rating.
 RUGS, MATS, etc.
 
CPSC estimated that in 1982, over 2,500 people 65 and over were treated in hospital emergency rooms for injuries that resulted from tripping over rugs and runners.  Falls are also the most common cause of fatal injury for older people.
 
  • Always purchase rugs, mats, etc. that have slip resistance backing.
  • Apply double-faced adhesive carpet tape or rubber matting to the backs of rugs and runners.
  • Check rugs and mats periodically to see if backing needs to be replaced.
  • Place rubber matting under rugs.
 EMERGENCIES
 
Make a list of the telephone numbers for the Police, Fire Department, and local Poison Control Center, neighbors, and relatives and place it near the phone, on the fridge, nightstand or in an area where it is readily available. You should also have a telephone located where it will be accessible in the event you are unable to stand.
 
SMOKE DETECTORS
 
At least one smoke detector should be placed on every floor of your home.
 
  • Read the instructions that come with the smoke detector for advice on the best place to install it.
  • Make sure detectors are placed near bedrooms, either on the ceiling or 6-12 inches below the ceiling on the wall.
  • Install smoke detectors away from air vents.
  • Check and replace batteries and bulbs according to the manufacturer's instructions.
  • Vacuum the grillwork of your smoke detector.
  • Replace any smoke detectors which cannot be repaired.

  NOTE: Some fire departments or local governments will provide assistance in acquiring or installing smoke detectors.

 CARBON MONOXIDE DETECTORS
 
The CPSC recommends installing at least one carbon monoxide detector per household, near the sleeping area.  Additional detectors on every level of a home and in every bedroom provide extra protection.  Choose an Underwriters Laboratories Inc. (UL) listed detector that sounds an audible alarm.  You can choose a model that is wired to your home's electrical system, a model which plugs into a standard electrical outlet, or a battery-operated model. Battery-operated carbon monoxide detectors continue to protect even in the event of a power outage.  Hardwired AC models, although more costly and difficult to install, reduce the expense of battery replacement but do not offer protection during power outages.  The hardwired AC models with battery back-up offer double protection.
 
Furnaces are frequently the source of leaks and should be carefully inspected.  Have a professional do the following:
  • Measure the concentration of CO in the flue gases.
  • Check furnace connections to flue pipes and venting systems to outside of the home for signs of corrosion, rust, gaps, or holes.
  • Check furnace filters and filtering systems for dirt or blockages.
  • Check forced air fans for proper installation and correct air flow of flue gases. Improper furnace blower installation can result in carbon monoxide build-up because toxic gas is blown into rather than out of the house.
  • Check the combustion chamber and internal heat exchanger for cracks, metal fatigue or corrosion–be sure they are clean and free of debris.
  • Check burners and ignition system.  A flame that is mostly yellow in color in natural gas-fired furnaces is often a sign fuel is not burning completely and higher levels of carbon monoxide are being released.  Oil furnaces with similar problems can give off an "oily" odor.  Remember, you cannot smell carbon monoxide.
ELECTRICAL OUTLETS AND SWITCHES

Unusually warm or hot outlets or switches may indicate unsafe wiring conditions.
 
  • Have a licensed electrician check the wiring as soon as possible.
  • Unplug cords from outlets and do not use the switches.
  • Add a cover plate.
  • An excessively high bulb wattage or the wrong type may lead to fire through overheating.  
  • Replace with a bulb of the correct type and wattage. (If you do not know the correct wattage, use a bulb no larger than 60 watts).

 SPACE HEATERS 

The grounding feature provided by a 3-hole receptacle or an adapter for a 2-hole receptacle is a safety feature designed to lessen the risk of shock.

  •  Never defeat the grounding feature.
  • If you do not have a 3-hole outlet, use an adapter to connect the heater's 3-prong plug.  Make sure the adapter ground wire or tab is attached to the outlet.
  • Place small stoves and heaters where they cannot be knocked over, and away from furnishings and flammable materials, such as curtains or rugs.
  • Heaters can cause fires or serious burns if they cause you to trip or if they are knocked over.
  • Use rooms with the doors open or window slightly open to provide ventilation if unvented heaters are being used.  The correct fuel, as recommended by the manufacturer, should always be used.  Vented heaters should have proper venting, and the ventilation system should be checked frequently.  Improper venting is the most frequent cause of carbon monoxide poisoning, and older consumers are at special risk.
  • Review the installation and operating instructions.
  • Most local fire departments will be happy to answer additional questions.
 WOOD BURNING HEATING EQUIPMENT
 
Wood burning stoves should be installed by qualified personnel according to local building codes.
 
  • Local building code officials or fire marshals can provide requirements and recommendations for installation.

 EMERGENCY EXIT PLAN

Once a fire starts, it can spread rapidly. Without an exit strategy, there may be a lot of confusion that cost valuable time.  It is therefore important that you have an exit strategy and everyone knows what to do. 

  • Develop an emergency exit plan.
  • Choose a meeting place outside the home so everyone can meet there and be accounted for.
  • Practice the plan frequently to ensure everyone knows how to escape quickly and safely. 

KITCHEN

The CPSC estimated that 70% of all people who die from clothing fires are over 65 years of age.  Wearing long sleeve while using the stove can be dangerous as they can catch fire if they are caught on pot handles, etc. They can also cause pots with hot food or liquids to overturn and cause horrific scalds.   
 
  • Do not store non-cooking equipment like potholders, dish towels, or plastic utensils on or near the range man result in fires or burns.
  • Store flammable and combustible items away from range and oven.
  • Do not hang towels close to a burner.
  • Shorten and/or remove curtains near heat sources.
  • Roll up long/ loose sleeves or fasten them with pins or elastic bands while you are cooking.
  • Use ventilation systems or open windows to clear air of vapors and smoke.
  • Move cords and appliances away from sink areas and hot surfaces.
  • Place appliances closer to wall outlets or to different outlets to avoid using extension cords.
  • If extension cords must be used, install wiring guides so that the cords will not hang near sink, range, or working areas.
  • Consider adding new outlets for convenience and safety; ask your electrician to install outlets equipped with ground fault circuit interrupters (GFCIs) to protect against electric shock.  (A GFCI is a shock-protection device that will detect electrical fault and shut off electricity before serious injury or death occurs.)
  • Opening curtains and blinds (unless this causes too much glare).
  • Use the maximum wattage bulb allowed by the fixture.  (If you do not know the correct wattage for the fixture, use a bulb no larger than 60 watts.)
  • Reduce glare by using frosted bulbs, indirect lighting, shades or globes on light fixtures, or partially closing the blinds or curtains.
  • Install additional light fixtures, e.g., under cabinet/over countertop lighting.
  • Do not stand on chairs, boxes, or other makeshift items to reach high shelves as this can result in falls.
  • Purchase a step stool with a handrail that you can hold onto while standing on the top step.
  • Before climbing on a step stool, make sure it is fully opened and stable.
  • Tighten screws and braces on the step stool.
  • Discard step stools with broken parts. 

LIVING ROOM/FAMILY ROOM

 In the living room/family room, check all rugs and runners, electrical and telephone cords, lighting, the fireplace and chimney, the telephone area, and all passageways. Many people like to use their fireplace especially during the winter months, it is advisable that the following actions be taken:  
 
  • Make sure that chimneys are not blocked before use.
  • Have the chimney checked and cleaned by a registered or licensed professional.
  • Have the chimney checked annually.

BEDROOMS

Examine all rugs and runners, electrical and telephone cords, and areas around beds.  Lamps or switches located near the bed will enable you to see if you have to get up during the night.
 
  • Place the lamp on a table or stand close to the bed tol enable  accessilty to lighting and avoid tripping over exposed, lengthy cords.
  • Install night lights.
  • Remove the source of heat or flame from areas around beds.
  • Do not smoke in bed.
  • Use electric blankets according to the manufacturer's instructions.
  • Do not allow anything on top of an electric blanket while it is in use, including other blankets or comforters.
  • Do not set electric blankets so high that they could burn someone who falls asleep while they are on.
  • Do not go to sleep with a heating pad if it is turned on as it can cause serious burns even at relatively low settings.

 BATHTUB AND SHOWER AREAS

Check bathtub and shower areas, water temperature, rugs and mats, lighting, small electrical appliances, and storage areas for medications.  Wet soapy tile or porcelain surfaces are especially slippery and may contribute to falls.  
 
  • Use non-skid mats in the tub and shower, and on the bathroom floor.
  • Add grab bars to help get in and out of the tub or shower; this also helps to prevent falls.
  • Check existing bars for strength and stability, and repair or replace them, if necessary.
  • Attach grab bars, through the tile, to structural supports in the wall, or install bars specifically designed to attach to the sides of the bathtub.  
  • Set hot water heater to "Low" or 120 degrees.
  • Always check water temperature by hand before entering bath or shower.
 NOTE:  If the water heater does not have a temperature setting, you can use a thermometer to check the temperature of the water at the tap. Also, taking baths, rather than showers, reduces the risk of a scald from suddenly changing water temperatures.
 
BASEMENT/GARAGE/WORKSHOP/STORAGE AREAS

In the basement, garage, workshop, and storage areas, check lighting, fuse boxes or circuit breakers, appliances and power tools, electrical cords, and flammable liquids.
 
STAIRS

For all stairways, check lighting, handrails, and the condition of the steps and coverings.  Stairs should be lighted so each step, particularly the step edges, are clearly visible while going up or down.  The lighting should not produce glare or shadows along the stairway.  Even though you are familiar with the stairs, always turn on the light as a well lit stairs can prevent falls.
 
  • Use the maximum wattage bulb allowed by the light fixture. (If you do not know the correct wattage, use a bulb no larger than 60 watts.)
  • Reduce glare by using frosted bulbs, indirect lighting, shades or globes on light fixtures, or partially closing blinds and curtains.
  • If you need additional light, have a licensed electrician add additional light fixtures.
  • If no light is available, keep an operating or fully charged flashlight in a convenient location at the top and bottom of the stairs.
  • Install night lights at nearby outlets.
  • Consider installing switches at the top and bottom of the stairs.
  • Avoid wearing socks or smooth-soled shoes or slippers when using stairs.
  • Make certain the carpet is always firmly attached to the steps.
  • Refinish and/or replace worn treads or carpet.
  • Paint outside steps with paint that has a rough texture, or use abrasive strips.
  • Be careful and mark all steps which are especially narrow or have risers that are higher or lower than the others.
  • Make sure that the coverings on the steps are in good condition; they should not be torn or have nails sticking out that could cause you to trip.
  • Paint edges of outdoor steps white to enable you to see them better at nights.
  • Avoid deep pile, patterned or dark colored carpeting on stairs as that can make it difficult to see the edges of the steps clearly.
  • Remove all objects obstructing the stairway.

PASSAGEWAYS

 Shadowed or dark areas can hide tripping hazards.
 
  • Use the maximum wattage bulb allowed by the fixture. (If you do not know the correct wattage, use a bulb no larger than 60 watts.)
  • Install night lights.
  • Reduce glare by using frosted bulbs, indirect lighting, shades or globes on light fixtures, or partially close blinds or curtains.
  • Consider using additional lamps or light fixtures if the passageway is dark.
  • Remove all obstructions from the passageway.
MEDICATIONS

Medications that are not clearly and accurately labeled can be easily mixed up.  Taking the wrong medicine or dosage can be dangerous.  Medicines should be stored out of reach of children.
 
  • Be sure that all medicine containers are clearly marked with the contents, doctor's instructions, expiration date, and patient's name.
  • Discard outdated medicines properly.
  • Request non child-resistant closures from your pharmacist only when you cannot use child-resistant closures.

 SMALL ELECTRICAL APPLIANCES

Small appliances including a hair dryer can cause shocks if it falls into water while plugged in.

  •   Unplug all small appliances when not in use.
  • Never reach into water to retrieve an appliance that has fallen in without being sure the appliance is unplugged or turned off.
  • Install a ground fault circuit interrupter (GFCI) in your bathroom outlet to protect against electric shock.

LIGHTING

 Good lighting can reduce the chance that you will get hurt. Install a light switch near the door so you can walk and see clearly into the room or area you are entering.
 
  • Avoid working in areas with poor lighting.
  • Basement, garages, and storage areas can contain many tripping hazards and sharp or pointed tools that can make a fall even more hazardous.
  • Keep an operating flashlight handy.
  • Have a licensed electrician install switches at each entrance to a dark area.
  • Install a night light.
  • Consider replacing the existing switch with a "glow switch" that can be seen in the dark.

  THE FUSE BOX/CIRCUIT BREAKERS

 Replacing a correct size fuse with a larger size fuse can be a serious fire hazard.  If the fuse is rated higher than that intended for the circuit, excessive current can cause a fire.
 
  • Be certain that the correct-size fuses are always used. (If you do not know the correct sizes, consider having an electrician identify and label the sizes to be used.)
POWER TOOLS
 
Power tools were involved in over 5,200 injuries treated in hospital emergency rooms to people 65 and over in 1982.
 
  • Use a properly connected 3-prong adapter for connecting a 3- prong plug to a 2-hole receptacle.
  • Consider replacing old tools that have neither a 3-prong plug nor are double insulated.
  • Replace guards that have been removed from power tools.
 FLAMMABLE LIQUIDS
 
Containers with volatile liquid may be toxic if vapors escape and are inhaled. The CPSC has reported several cases in which gasoline stored near gas water heater exploded. 
 
  • Check containers periodically to make sure they are tightly closed.
  • Remove containers with gasoline, kerosene, paints, solvents and other flammable liquids from the near heat or flame of heaters, furnaces, water heaters, ranges, and other gas appliances.